This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," March 27, 2007, that has been edited for clarity.
ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Our top story tonight: it's day five of the Iran hostage crisis. Today, 15 British sailors and marines being held by the mullahs at an undisclosed location in Iran. Earlier today, British Prime Minister Tony Blair threw down the gauntlet, calling the seizure unjustified and wrong.
Blair also warned Tehran that the crisis could be headed into a different phase if negotiations over the fate of the 15 continued to stall. Even more important today, we learned the name of one of the captured sailors. It's the one woman among them, 26-year-old Faye Turney, seen here in exclusive Sky News footage. She lives in Shropshire, England, with her husband, Adam, and their 3-year-old daughter, Molly. But now she is being treated like a pawn in a game of international chess.
Joining us now on the phone from England is Admiral Sir Alan West, formerly of the Royal Navy, who was the commander of the British soldiers who were captured by Iran in 2004.
Sir West, thank you so much for being with us. What does Tony Blair mean when he says this might have to go on to "another phase"?
SIR ALAN WEST, FORMER HEAD OF ROYAL NAVY: Well, I'm not exactly privy to what exactly he means. I think what he's saying is, up until now, we've tried to leave options for them to save face and to be able to get out of this crisis and return our people.
I think now the feeling is that we have to show and prove the fact that very clearly these people are operating under a U.N. mandate in waters that very clearly were Iraqi waters and not, as the Iranians say, inside Iranian waters. That of course, that's made very clear through to the world at large. It makes it much more difficult for them to save face from the actions they've taken.
COLMES: As the commander of the British soldiers who were captured in 2004 by Iran, what insight do you have and what light you can shed on what they might be going through right now?
WEST: Well, I was — effectively, in American terms, I was the CNO from 2002 to 2006. And the incident in 2004, which involved three small boats, which were being transferred from the Umm Qasr in the south of Iraq up to Basra, and it took place just in the very entrance to the Shatlarah River.
And I think the action by the Iraqis then was sort of taken locally by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy. And I don't think it had any authority initially from Tehran.
There's no doubt that our people who were captured then were treated in an outrageous manner. They were shown on television blindfolded, shuffling around. They were made to fear for their life, digging trenches and standing in them with people with weapons above them, some were separated, and rounds were fired to make them think the others had been killed. It was fairly outrageous.
But I think it is being instigated at the lower level. When Tehran became fully aware of it, even though those pictures were shown — there were incidents going on in the world stage at that time to do with the nuclear issue — they allowed consular access, and then they were released in four days.
This current crisis seems very different. It's further out from the coast, in Iraqi waters. There were six gun boats that came right alongside very quickly. People were moved up to Tehran very quickly. And I believe this has been more orchestrated, although, of course, orchestrated by one of the centers of power, and that's probably [President] Ahmadinejad and his Revolutionary Guard up in Tehran.
RICH LOWRY, GUEST HOST: Sir West...
WEST: That makes it a little bit more worrying.
LOWRY: ... Sir West, it's Rich Lowry here. You say these very clearly were Iraqi waters. Why do you say that?
WEST: Well, the boats we have, have got their own GPS. They have a system called Xeres, which means they have a little digital charts in each boat. And they're linked back to the mothership, in this HMS Cornwall, so their position is monitored.
And, so, the mothership knows where they are. They know very precisely where they are. There's a helicopter airborne, which has radar, as well. And so I'm absolutely certain they were in Iraqi waters.
LOWRY: Now, if there isn't any diplomat solution here any time soon, is there any realistic military option to go in and get these guys, or is that just much too complex a proposition?
WEST: Well, I think it's extremely complex. I mean, we don't actually know, you know, where they are exactly at the moment. And before we could even consider anything like special forces-type thing, you have to know exactly where they were. You'd need very good intelligence. And even then, it would be a very, very complex operation, and, of course, it would be a huge escalation.
But, you know, one can't allow one's servicemen to be taken when they are conducting proper, you know, U.N.-type operations in waters at the top of the Gulf, which is for the good of all the nations up there, allowing the flow of oil from the Iraqis. This task group, Task Force 158, is actually a joint American, U.S., you know, U.S., Australian, and British force. And it's been doing the operations day on day for years now.
And for the Iranians to suddenly do this is outrageous. And actually, I have to say, if this was in the 19th century, it would be an act of war and the sort of thing that, in those days, nations used to go to war for. And, really, it cannot be allowed to happen.
And I think we'll have to look very carefully at our rules of engagement. At the moment, our rules of engagement are very de-escalatory. We try and do anything to avoid raising the tension and going to war, but one can't allow this sort of thing to continue happening.
COLMES: Admiral, we thank you very much for being with us tonight. Thank you, sir, for your time.
Meanwhile, this new hostage crisis with Iran is being compared to the 1979 hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, where Americans were held for 444 days until their release. Joining us now is one of those Americans who survived the hostage crisis, Don Sharer. And also joining us now, the author of the books like "Guests of the Ayatollah" and, of course, "Black Hawk Down," Mark Bowden.
Mark, let me go to you, first. Is there an agenda here that we're not aware of? Do you think it's as simple as Iranians believe that the British were in their waters, or is there more to it than that?
MARK BOWDEN, AUTHOR: I think that there's probably more to it than that. This is a government that does take and hold hostages. I think they may well be engaging in a little bit of tit-for-tat, because American forces have been seizing Iranian diplomats in Iran and accusing them of assisting the insurgency. I think there are a number of Iranians that are being held right now. So I think this looks to me like a deliberate provocation, a little bit of the upping of the ante to deal with the problem of Iranians being seized in Iraq.
COLMES: Don, when you hear that people are comparing this to what you went through for 444 days, does that make sense to you?
DON SHARER, FORMER IRANIAN EMBASSY HOSTAGE: It makes sense the way the British are probably being treated. They're going to be blindfolded, and hands tied, and they're going to be intimidated and have guns stuck in their ear. They're going to try to get them to confess to being spies. There's no doubt in my mind that Ahmadinejad did know this was coming.
COLMES: Did you go through that? Were they trying to do that to you, get to you confess? What I understand, one of the things you experienced was being hung by your elbows?
SHARER: I had the rope tied around my elbows, and hoisted up on my toes, and just barely enough weight on my toes to keep me there, hung there for, it seemed like for about three weeks, but it was probably about 45 minutes.
And we had guns stuck in our ears and went through mock execution, lined up against the wall blindfolded, handcuffed. And people saying they're going to execute us and start chambering rounds in their guns. And then they tell you to lay down. And at one point, I just said, "No, if you're going to shoot me, you're going to shoot me standing up."
I came back to the States. I didn't remember saying that but people on both sides of me said I did. — That's what fear will do to you.
LOWRY: Well, Don, you're a very brave man. Don, looking at this latest incident, does this just bring home to you this is the same regime that engaged in that illegal act 25, 35 years ago, this is the same radical, revolutionary, anti-Western regime?
SHARER: Oh, I believe so. The Revolutionary Guard enforces what the theocracy wants. Ahmadinejad was — I haven't been able to say that...
LOWRY: Well, a lot of us are still practicing.
SHARER: He was part of the Revolutionary Guard, and he belonged to a special unit that exported terrorism throughout the Middle East, Lebanon, the Marine barracks —name something and they were there.
LOWRY: Mark, there are some theories out there that maybe this was the Revolutionary Guard Navy just acting on their own in an unauthorized action. How likely do you think that is?
BOWDEN: It's possible. I think my inclination is to think that, in this case, it's not likely because of the current climate, the fact that Iran is under increasing international pressure because of its nuclear arms, because the United States has been picking up Iranian diplomats in Iraq and accusing them of aiding the insurgency. I think that, you know, this has the look, to me, of a calculated move.
COLMES: We're going to pick it up right there in just a moment.
LOWRY: Welcome back to "Hannity & Colmes." I'm Rich Lowry, in for Sean Hannity tonight.
We now continue with former Iranian embassy hostage Don Sharer and the author of "Guests of the Ayatollah" and "Black Hawk Down" Mark Bowden. Mark, how do you see this thing being resolved?
BOWDEN: Well, right now, there seems to be a lot of provocative language, particularly from the Iranian side, although Tony Blair has upped the ante. You know, I can't help but think that this is the kind of thing that is going to be resolved diplomatically here over the next few days.
I know that Iran follows the politics, obviously, in the United States and in Great Britain. And the growing unpopularity of the war in Iraq maybe gives them the idea that they can be provocative, they can challenge the United States and Great Britain, because it's unlikely that either Tony Blair or George Bush would be inclined to get involved in any kind of conflict with them at this point.
LOWRY: So, in that sense, this is a reaction to a perceived Western weakness?
BOWDEN: I think so. I think that they — you know, it's also a reaction to the pressure that's being put on Iran. It's a reminder, I think, that they can make trouble for the United States and Great Britain and that we aren't as — we don't have all the leverage over them we might think we have.
LOWRY: Now, Mark, just spinning it out a little bit, let's say there's not a diplomatic solution. What other options are there for the British in this?
BOWDEN: Well, a great deal of pressure could be brought to bear on Iran, particularly if, you know, Great Britain were able to convince its allies to — you know, there are already sanctions imposed on Iran. Things could get a lot worse for them.
I think that there could possibly be, depending on how seriously the British government wants to take this, they could begin applying military sanctions. It would be something short, I think, of going to war against Iran, but we're talking about potentially war-like acts, like mining harbors or making, at least, threats.
COLMES: Hey, Don, it's Alan once again. When you see situations like this, and now here you are talking about it, do you have flashbacks?
SHARER: I remember things, not really flashbacks. This situation is basically the same as ours. And the Iranians wanted something when they took us. They wanted the Shah back. Well, he died, so they wanted something else. The United States paid $7.9 million to get us out of jail. What do they want from Britain/the U.S.? You know, end to our sanctions?
COLMES: You told the story in our last segment about — you know, they told you to sit down and you said, if you're going to shoot me just, you know, do it now, standing up. What was going through your mind? What level of fear did you experience?
SHARER: Well, it flashes through you're mind. That, you know, well, this is it. It's over. You know, so many things I wanted to do in my life, and you just kind of stand there. You grin and bear it, and be defiant as you can be.
COLMES: Hey, Mark, the U.S. Navy just began its largest demonstration of force in the Gulf since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And the head of the Navy, the admiral of the Navy, or the commander of the Navy, I should say, says it's not in response to the capture of the British soldiers, and yet Defense Secretary Robert Gates says it is a signal to Iran. So I wonder which is accurate here?
BOWDEN: Well, of course, there was the buildup in the Persian Gulf before this happened. The United States has been making it very clear to Iran that we don't have a weakened military presence because of our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So I think if there are, you know, stepped up exercises on top of the buildup that's already there, it might be a signal that we are fully supportive of our allies in Great Britain.
LOWRY: Hey, Mark, Don, thanks so much for being with us tonight. We appreciate it.
BOWDEN: You're welcome.
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